I've recently gotten involved with horses again, in large part because of the kind folks at Charleston Area Therapeutic Riding.

They have some very calm horses out there, just the ticket when I was debating about whether I wanted to ride again this summer after a 30-plus-year absence.

But their real mission is one that I had the chance to witness first hand: serving emotionally and physically handicapped students through learning to ride a horse.

To do that, volunteers help teach these students to do everything associated with learning to ride a horse, from approaching a horse, to grooming, saddling and finally learning to sit properly on a horse.

The benefits are enormous. There is a deep connection that happens when you are around a horse, and students who have trouble communicating through autism or physical handicaps often find an outlet with large, quiet animals that have generous spirits.

Most of CATR's students come from the Charleston County School system, and these lessons are individualized because each of the students has a different need. There is a bevy of volunteers since a student may need as many as three people for a ride: one to lead the horse and two more to help with balance on either side.

And of course, the horses have to incredibly calm — the sort that let people climb all over them and never bat an eyelash.

It's amazing to watch these students have fun, and everyone seems to join in the games played on horseback.

CATR is having its 5th Annual Blue Ribbon Event today at the Embassy Suites in downtown Charleston, and the speaker is Jane Jenkins Herlong, a motivational speaker who grew up on Johns Island, was labeled as dyslexic and has gone on to be a beauty pageant contestant, graduate tops in her class and now blend humor and Southern charm.

Doors open at 11:30 a.m., and tickets are $60. There probably are a few seats available if you know someone who would benefit from this great program. Now that's a lunch that sounds like fun.

And over at Rein and Shine, in Awendaw, another therapeutic riding center, they are having their 11th Annual Rein and Shine Barn Raiser 4-8 p.m. Oct. 13.

They will feature the Blue Dogs, and the event will include food, live music, live and silent auctions, and fun activities for children. Prices are $30 per individual or $65 for VIP tickets. Children are $10 (ages 5-17).

Both of these organizations are certified through the Professional Association of Therapeutic Horsemanship International, which creates teaching and facility standards for working with special needs children and adults. Both also have been doing this for a long time: CATR for 20 years and Rein and Shine for 11. And both raise funds for these programs and could use the help.

I have the greatest respect for anyone who provides emotional support for those with special needs, and both of these organizations do that and help create a special bond between the rider and horse that brings both joy.

Reach Stephanie Harvin at sharvin@postandcourier.com or 937-5557.